Toptracer facility shoots Palmetto Dunes range into 21st century
Updated: Feb 1
The evolution of golf data has arrived at Palmetto Dunes, and as simplistic as the Toptracer range may appear on the surface, it is anything but. A technology 20-plus years in the making and nearly a decade into its everyday usage has added an element of information previously unknown to any property not just in the Lowcountry, but the entire state of South Carolina.
“We put this in and we’re going to make the absolute best possible thing,” Palmetto Dunes Director of Golf Clark Sinclair said. “Did we re-invent the wheel? No. You don’t want to do that. But someone else around the country may have something in their Toptracer [facility] that we may want to copy. You’re silly not to.”
In some ways, Palmetto Dunes’ 14-bay Toptracer range is a work in progress, even though it opened in March. The staff is still tinkering with ways to make it an even better experience for visitors — both those who are fine-tuning their games and the casual player or group looking for more of an entertainment value.
The true benefit of the technology is that it allows for both.
Now co-opted with the ultra-popular TopGolf, Toptracer was born in 2006 as “Protracer,” some eight years after then-IT professional Daniel Forsgren realized golf as a whole deserved a change — all according to the Toptracer website.
Forsgren eventually quit his job and went to work full-time on the prototype that would allow a system of cameras and computer code to aid in one of the hardest parts of golf: Tracking the ball. That year, both the PGA Tour and European Tour put it into action with their TV partners, and fans at home went from squinting and guessing to easily following a shot trajectory with a colored line. It was all a product of massive amounts of computer data.
All of a sudden, announcers had a real-time assist in calling the game at a time when the professionals were about to start adding even more distance to theirs.
Getting the technology from the professional circuits to the common player was a relatively easy step. The system transferred to driving ranges with relatively few additional infrastructure needs. That didn’t mean those ranges didn’t make them anyway.
At Palmetto Dunes, the Toptracer range (13 regular spots and one VIP lounge) was re-constructed out of the existing layout. Now semi-enclosed with a roof overhead, and with the flexibility to fully enclose those bays down the line, each section includes ample seating and table-top space, a rear display screen and bag stands. The high tops are perfect for a small gathering, and the columns supporting that roof act as a nice divide between groups.
As far as the technology, that’s what makes it all work to players’ advantage.
Two high-end cameras are mounted at the front and middle of the range roof, with another set off to the side. Those cameras are accomplishing the same thing they’re doing on CBS or the Golf Channel. Within seconds of the club face making contact and sending the ball into the target-rich range, data calculating the ball’s flight, speed and landing spot are all transported to either the screen behind the player, the Toptracer app on a smartphone or both.
What folks are doing with that data is entirely up to them. However, someone hoping to improve can now see his or her potential with a specific club. Thirty fully-tracked shots in a matter of minutes can give someone the type of information that goes beyond a gut feeling.
That real-life application frequently missing at a standard range is only half of Toptracer’s appeal, though. It’s not difficult to see why Palmetto Dunes fell in love with the idea and then invested in making it happen.
TOPTRACER, THE IMPACT
TopGolf, including its South Carolina locations in Greenville and Myrtle Beach, has its share of critics.
They believe it is too much game and not enough golf. Computer-chipped balls and shared clubs and mostly elevated playing surfaces each take something away from the true believers who want their golf the same way it's always been. Tightly wound as those folks may be, Toptracer turns those arguments on their head.
Players who venture to Palmetto Dunes for the experience are using their own clubs, swinging at quality range balls and getting real data from just about every swing. But even if that’s not your bag and you are just looking for a fun hour or two with some friends, this facility can stretch your imagination.
During a recent tour of the Toptracer facility at Palmetto Dunes, Lowco Golf played the front nine of the Old Course at St. Andrew's in about 12 minutes. Was it even semi-realistic? Of course not. Putts in the simulation are conducted via chip shots into forward targets, for instance. But it was a simulated taste without the normally enclosed, simulated feel.
It’s an added component that boosts the appeal for casual visitors and competitive golfers alike. Toptracer’s game element is wholly entertaining and offers some diversity to the normal trip to the range.
Now, throw in anything from the bar or grill menu, and all of a sudden you’ll start wondering where the time went. It makes the Toptracer facility one part healthy medium, one part catch-all.
Palmetto Dunes is banking on you falling somewhere in the golfing spectrum.